For some time now I have been interested in comparing the My Sonics Labs Signature Gold to the AirTight PC-1 Supreme. Both cartridges are designed, or at least manufactured by Mr. Y. Matsudaira of Japan. The Supreme has been my reference cartridge for two and a half years now. It replaced the original AirTight PC-1.
I have listened to the MSL now for over a month. It had 20-25 hours on it when I mounted it on my arm and I’ve put another 45 hours on it, so it should be fully broken in. The two cartridges have slightly different specifications. The Supreme weighs 12 grams, has an internal impedance of 1 ohm, and an output of 0.4 mV while the Sig. Gold weights 10 grams, has an internal impedance of 1.4 ohms and an output of 0.5 mV.
The set up procedure was very straight forward. To my relief, the cartridge mounting hole to stylus distance is exactly the same for the two cartridges, so I was able to use my MINT BEST LP Protractor to align each cartridge. Because my SME V-12 does not have a slotted headshell, the MINT is made specifically for my V-12 and Supreme combination. And with the different weights, I did have to remove one of the SME counterweights from my arm to best balance the MSL.
I found the VTA to be the same for both cartridges. As you may know, I have a specific SRA for each of my LPs. Many have the same setting, so I do not have to change the VTA each time I listen, but I have about five different settings for my collection of LPs. At the average VTA setting, VTF for the Supreme is 2.125 grams while the Sig. Gold is 2.0 grams. These VTFs vary slightly as I adjust VTA. Zenith was adjusted to line up at the null points on the MINT. There is a very small amount of play in the mounting holes on the SME headshell, so I am able to slightly rotate the cartridge in the headshell. There is no azimuth adjustability with the SME arm.
You can see from some of the photographs earlier in the thread the details about stylus profiles and cantilever design. The Supreme uses a solid boron cantilever while the Sig. Gold uses a hollow duralumin cantilever. Here are some additional photographs of the two cartridges:
I listened to a variety of records, but mostly to small scale jazz, vocals and classical chamber and symphonic music. Some of the more familiar recordings:
Tschaikowsky, Violin Concerto, Heifetz/Reiner, RCA Living Stereo
Rachmaninoff, Symphonic Dances, Eiji Oue, Reference Recordings
Mozart String Quintets, Grumiaux Trio, Philips
The Sheffield Drum Record, Jim Keltner, Direct to Disk
Beethoven, Appassionata, Kamiya RCA, Direct to Disk 45 RPM
Muddy Water, Folk Singer, Chess reissue, 45 RPM
Listening Impressions: Compared to the Supreme, The Sig. Gold is more neutral with a flatter tonal/frequency response. It is slightly more extended in the bass and treble. It is extremely resolving and it has explosive dynamics. I had never heard the amount of pure energy on the Sheffield Drum Record and on the Bosendorfer piano on Beethoven’s Appassionata from my system. Full orchestras also had an increased power and scale from even my small system based on the Magico Mini II speakers. It really was incredible. With this cartridge, I feel as though I'm hearing more from my records than ever before. And it is very natural sounding.
The Supreme, on the other hand, is tonally slightly tilted toward the midrange frequencies, so it sounds a bit more forward and present, though it has an overall slightly more relaxed sound. It also has slightly more developed harmonics and overtones and tends to sound warmer, richer and fuller. Perhaps it is a bit darker. Some might call this a coloration or distortion. I find it makes voices and strings sound absolutely beautiful, palpable and real in my room. It's funny, but I never noticed this slight character with the AirTight until I heard the MSL in my system. It is that subtle.
Both cartridges extract a tremendous amount of information and detail from the grooves. Despite this high degree of resolution, neither is aggressive or causes the least bit of fatigue. One can listen for hours and simply be lost in the glorious reproduction of music. I think the Supreme is just a bit quieter in the grooves and is a slightly better tracker. I heard this tracking difference only on the ultra dynamic solo piano in Appassionata and had to increase the VTF just slightly.
If I were to sum it up, the MSL is more about truth while the AirTight is more about beauty. Though I have not heard either a Lyra or a Koetsu in my own system, I would think that the MSL is not quite as precise or as detailed as the Atlas, nor is the Supreme nearly as warm or as rich as a typical Koetsu, but this is just a guess. These two cartridges are more similar than they are different. Unlike Koetsu and Lyra, they are like two slightly different flavors in the middle. A bit like butter-pecan and almond ice-cream instead of like chocolate or vanilla. Each is highly resolving, has great detail, tone and dynamics, but they are voiced slightly differently.
Both cartridges are extremely good. In my system, the MSL tells me slightly more about the recording and sounds unbelievable on the best of them while the AirTight sounds more beautiful on more of the LPs in my collection and can put a singer or violin right in the room with me. Like the Supreme, the Signature Gold is one of the truly great cartridge designs available today. It is a shame that it is not better known here in the US. It deserves more attention and a couple of reviews.
I have decided to add the Signature Gold to my small but growing collection of cartridges.Associated gear Click to view my Virtual System